“The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.”
― Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
David and Goliath is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610). It was painted in about 1599, and is held in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. The David and Goliath in the Prado was painted in the early part of the artist’s career, while he was a member of the household of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte.
It depicts the Biblical David as a young boy standing over the fallen Goliath, the giant Philistine whom he has just defeated in single combat. It is a story we are all very familiar with. Yet Caravaggio has not here depicted the legendary battle — although he will show a more graphic moment in two later versions — he has shown a rather banal moment after David has cut off Goliath’s head.
However, Caravaggio is not downplaying this legendary battle between the overgrown Philistine warrior Goliath and the humble shepherd boy David — who will become King of Israel — he is cleverly sliding the focus from the well-known essence of the story to a more prosaic moment in the iconic story where David is preparing his trophy for display. It is another way, another angle by which to see the very essence of the event. It is Caravaggio’s signature way and very modern in its method.
The light is thrown onto David’s leg, arm and flank and on the massive shoulders from which Goliath’s head has been severed, and on the head itself, which displays the fatal head-wound made by the shepherd boy’s sling and shot. At first glance, it is not that obvious, that here had been, a terrifying giant that no Israelite would fight. Not until one sees perfectly placed by David’s foot that huge fist still clenched in its death throes. Masterful touch. It is the fist of the vanquished giant at the very feet of its conqueror, a dimunitive, ordinary shepherd boy. But no longer.
The overwhelming impression given by Caravaggio in his painting is of some action intensely personal and private — no armies, no triumph. But the victory of one who should not have triumphed given the facts of the situation. A victory in battle against overwhelming odds. Its application to Israel in its conflict with the Arab states after Israel was created seems very appropriate and applicable. I would call this application of the story of David and Goliath to Israel, for now, as the Israeli Narrative.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on 14 May 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and soon to be first Prime Minister of Israel. It declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel, which would come into effect on termination of the British Mandate at midnight that day.
The Balfour Declaration in 1917 had been a core component of the British Mandate for Palestine, the founding document of Mandatory Palestine, which later became Israel and the Palestinian territories. Britain’s involvement in this became one of the most controversial parts of its Empire’s history and damaged its reputation in the Middle East for generations. According to historian Elizabeth Monroe:
“measured by British interests alone, [the declaration was] one of the greatest mistakes in [its] imperial history.”
The Balfour Declaration is considered a principal cause of the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict, which is far from a conflict. The assymetry in power and military strength is straight from the biblical narrative of ‘David and Goliath’.
It is now at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century the Palestinians, who represent David — small, alone, isolated, stone-throwing — and Israel, that clearly now represents Goliath — giant, massive, technologically sophisticated war-machine — this should now be referred to as the Palestinian Narrative.
However, in our modern-day revisiting of this iconic story— the Palestinian Narrative — Goliath is literally pummelling David into submission. For the narrative now is not about the honed skill of a fearless shepherd-boy with a sling-shot, trusting in God in the face of terrifying opposition and winning, but, a modern-day state-of-the-art army enforcing its ethnic supremacy upon another religious group by denying it any self-determination. Here today, David is losing, but he is still in the fight.
Where once Israel was the plucky, outgunned, outnumbered, shepherd boy fighting to save its people against Arab enemies from annihalation and to preserve its own succesful self-determination — the Israeli Narrative — it is now the Palastinians who are using the modern-day equivalent of sling-shots — missiles fired at Israeli’s — in response to the ethnic cleansing taking place now in Jerusalem by that modern-day Goliath, the Israeli state. The ethnic cleansing from Israel of the Palestinians has been taking place since 1946 (see above).
In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Israel captured and occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Israel also captured the Sinai Peninsula, but returned it to Egypt as part of the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty. Since Israel’s capture of these territories, Israeli settlements and military installations have been built within each of them, except Lebanon.
Israeli settlements are civilian communities inhabited by Israeli citizens, almost exclusively of Jewish ethnicity, built in violation of international law on lands occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli settlements currently exist in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights. East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have been annexed by Israel, so residents should be treated equivalently to the rest of Israel under Israeli law. In a unanimous General Assembly resolution, the United Nations declared the measures changing the status of the city of Jerusalem to be invalid.
Israel has established Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and in the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights, both of which Israel has effectively annexed, and as such Israel does not consider the developments there to be settlements. The international community regards both territories as held under Israeli occupation and the localities established there to be illegal settlements. On 20 December 2019, the International Criminal Court announced an International Criminal Court investigation in Palestine, into alleged war crimes.
The recent escalation was precipitated by the forced evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied Jerusalem based on an Israeli court order. Samira Dajani and Adel Budeiri, have lived in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood their whole lives, their house is one of the houses to be evicted in August. In an interview on Monday conducted via Zoom — a platform for video conferencing — Dajani told The Jordan Times:
‘‘I’ve lived my whole life in this house; my parents and I moved in when I was five years old in 1956. I spent my childhood here, and I’m now here after my parents passed away to preserve this house which is a heaven for me,”
The transfer by an occupying power of its civilian population into the territory it occupies is a war crime. But the Israeli state is not in the least bothered by such acts. On the same day as Dajani was interviewed by The Jordan Times Israeli forces invaded the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in the Islamic religion, and shot Palestinians with rubber steel-coated bullets just days before Eid. This was a deliberate provocation of the Palestinians and Muslims across the globe.
Now Israel has resorted to type by dropping bombs on civilians and civilian targets in the besieged territory of Gaza. 48 people have been killed, including 14 children, in just the past few days. What this amounts to is the most powerful military in the region bombarding defenseless, innocent civilians in their own homes.
This Goliath is now so secure in its position with the unwavering support of another Goliath — United States of America — that it fears nobody — apart from the David of Palestine, which it has created by its own inhuman actions.
For as Malcolm Gladwell put it brilliantly, ‘force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission’ and is that not in essence the true meaning of the story of David and Goliath. This has now become the Palestinian Narrative. And we all know how that assymetric fight must end. And end it must.